The Magna Carta

The Magna Carta is a document granted in June 1215 by King John that places limits on the power of the crown and enshrines the rights of the clergy and nobles. It was drawn up to stop King John’s barons rebelling against him due to the high taxes he placed on them to fund his unsuccessful war in France.

Out of the 63 original clauses in the Magna Carta only three remain law in the UK. One defends the freedom and rights of the English church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, and the third paved the way for trial by jury by stating that no man could be arrested, imprisoned or have their possessions taken away except by “the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land”. In NZ only the last out of the three clauses remains as law.

Even after 800 years the Magna Carta is still important today and still provides the foundations of freedom, justice, and the rule of law that we in NZ and abroad continue to build upon. As the UK Magna Carta 800th Committee say; “The principles set out in Magna Carta have driven the Arab Spring and the continuing protests against despotism around the world. These principles, with the power of social networking and the internet to spread them, will no doubt continue to have huge influence wherever freedom is under attack.” See the links below for more information and visit the UK Magna Carta 800 Anniversary website.


Radio NZ: Lindsay Diggelmann: Magna Carta – In this 18 minute interview, Lindsay Diggelmann from the History Department at the University of Auckland gives an overview of the history of the Magna Carta and the various historical interpretations. You can listen here.

BBC4 Magna Carta series – In this four part BBC4 radio series, Melvyn Bragg looks at the events leading to the creation of the Magna Carta, the turmoil surrounding its inception, and its legacy. Each part is approximately 40 minutes. You can listen to it by clicking here.

BBC History Magazine article: 8 facts about Magna Carta: how much do you know? – Short article on the basics of the Magna Carta. You can read it by clicking here.

British Library website dedicated to the Magna Carta – The British Library has provided an entire website dedicated to the Magna Carta that includes links that allow you to explore one of the four original surviving documents and has many articles on its history and legacy. Check it out here.

History Today article: The Meaning of the Magna Carta since 1215 – Article about the Magna Carta’s use in British and American history and in the history of law. Available here.

UK Universities free online course on the Magna Carta – This free six week online course includes short lectures (5-12 minutes each) from members of the History Department at Royal Holloway, a college of the University of London. Each lecture includes a brief quiz to go with it and the final week includes a peer assisted assignment. You can access the course here.

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